Although the birth rate among American teenagers has been dropping since the 1990s, there are still about 750,000 teenage girls who get pregnant each year. While most parents assume that their daughters will make it through the teenage years without finding themselves pregnant, unfortunately, this is a reality that many must face. Teen pregnancy can, in some cases, be linked to mental health issues. In some cases, a pre-existing mental health condition makes it more likely that a young woman will unintentionally get pregnant, and in others, pregnancy itself can take its toll on a teen’s mental health.
Read on to find out more about possible connections between teen pregnancy and mental health issues and to learn what you can do to make your teen daughter’s pregnancy less likely to negatively impact her mental health.
Mental Health Issues Leading to Teen Pregnancy
While any sexually active teen can become pregnant, certain mental health conditions might make it more likely. For example, a teenage girl with ADHD might find it difficult to remember to take her birth control pills as directed. If your teen is unable to remember that part of her daily routine, a different type of birth control that does not have to be taken each day might be a more effective option.
Teens with depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia might be at higher risk of an unplanned pregnancy. This could be due to the high rate of impulsive behavior; a young woman might not plan on having sex and is caught without barrier birth control in the heat of the moment, or she might impulsively make a conscious decision to forgo the birth control during her encounters. If your teen has a diagnosed or suspected mental health disorder, talk to her about her birth control needs and encourage her to choose a type that does not have to be remembered daily. Something like an IUD or a birth control implant might be a better choice.
Anxiety During Early Pregnancy
As you might imagine, it’s often very stressful for a teenager to find that she’s unexpectedly pregnant. Her feelings might range from excitement to devastation, maybe all within the same day. She is likely anxious and worried about telling people and about what lies ahead. Particularly for a teen predisposed to anxiety, this can set off or exacerbate the condition. Even if your teen has never had issues with anxiety before, the hormonal changes and the uniquely stressful situation can cause it to start.
Once you find out that your teen is pregnant, take these steps to ease her anxiety:
- Talk to her calmly about her options
- Let her know that you will be there for her and that no matter what she chooses to do, she will come out of it okay on the other end
- Encourage her to use relaxation techniques such as guided imagery and meditation to stay calm
- Explain the need for a healthy lifestyle that includes healthy foods, exercise, and plenty of sleep. This not only will boost her odds for a healthy teen pregnancy, but can also reduce her anxiety levels.
If your teen already suffers from depression, it could improve, remain the same, or get worse during her pregnancy. If she has never dealt with depression, antenatal depression could still become an issue. Antenatal depression is a type of depression that begins during pregnancy and affects up to 23 percent of pregnant women. It is important for both you and your teen daughter to be aware of the symptoms of antenatal depression. These include:
- persistent sadness
- changes in appetite that are unrelated to the physical effects of pregnancy
- thoughts of suicide (in severe cases)
Antenatal depression can be treated and it’s important that it is, because if left untreated, the condition can lead to nutritional deficiencies, drinking, or smoking. These can contribute to low birth weight, premature delivery, and other complications. Tough circumstances can increase the chances of a teen developing antenatal depression, so it’s important to make sure that your teen has the support network she needs, especially if she is already having a hard time coping with her pregnancy or is dealing with additional complicated situations.
How Teen Pregnancy Can Affect Other Mental Health Disorders
If your teen is already being treated for mental illness and becomes pregnant, it’s very important that she let her doctor know as soon as possible. This is because some medications are contraindicated during pregnancy. There are options for treating some mental illnesses that are considered safe for pregnant women. Do not let your daughter discontinue her medication without talking to her doctor; she might already be on one that is safe for pregnancy, and if not, she still might need to be weaned off of the medication. Her doctor will outline the risks vs. the benefits of her medication.
Some mental health conditions tend to flare up and get worse during pregnancy. These can include depression and bipolar disorder. Many women with mental health disorders do not get the prenatal care they need, so it’s vital that you keep in touch with your daughter’s mental health care provider and her obstetrician, if possible.
Postpartum Depression and Psychosis
Perhaps one of the most well-known and common mental health conditions associated with pregnancy is postpartum depression (PPD). A more severe (and much more rare) condition is postpartum psychosis (PPS). PPD goes beyond the nearly universal “baby blues” that happen within a few days of the baby’s birth. Rather than feeling better as time goes by, moms with PPD tend to have symptoms of depression lasting for weeks or months. PPS is much more severe and warrants an immediate mental health evaluation. Symptoms include sudden mania, paranoia, and hallucinations. Mothers with PPS could be at risk of harming their babies or themselves.
No matter what decision your daughter makes for her pregnancy or for her baby, try to be the source of support that she desperately needs during this difficult time. While you might be struggling with anger, disappointment, or anxiety over the teen pregnancy situation, it’s important that she see you as an anchor in the storm. Don’t be afraid to seek counseling for yourself so that you can be a good caregiver to her and, if she chooses to parent the baby, your grandchild.